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EconomicPolicyInstitute July 24, 2008

Women are leaving work because jobs are lousy
One of EPI’s most important contributions is to dig up evidence that defies the conventional wisdom. That certainly was the case this week, when a trend we highlighted provided fodder for a front-page New York Times story on the significant number of women leaving the U.S. workforce. It turns out the exodus has more to do with lousy jobs than a desire to stay home with the kids. As Louis Uchitelle wrote in the piece: “After moving into virtually every occupation, women are being afflicted on a large scale by the same troubles as men: downturns, layoffs, outsourcing, stagnant wages or the discouraging prospect of an outright pay cut…. Pay is no longer rising smartly for women in the key 25-to-54 age group. Just the opposite, the median pay — the point where half make more and half less — has fallen in recent years, to $14.84 an hour in 2007 from $15.04 in 2004, adjusted for inflation, according to the Economic Policy Institute. (The similar wage for men today is two dollars more.)” The story hit a nerve and was picked up by top media channels and dozens of newspapers across the country. While hardly good news, the information could help force a recognition of fundamental economic problems facing both genders.

Federal government trails 23 states on minimum wage
The second part of a three-stage hike in the federal minimum wage took effect this week, raising hourly pay from $5.85 to $6.55 for about 2 million workers. But as EPI policy analyst Mary Gable notes in this week’s Economic Snapshot, the impact was not as great as it would have been years ago, when the federal government truly led the nation in establishing a meaningful floor for wages. Given the inadequacy of the federal minimum, many states and the District of Columbia have set their own higher minimum wages. Even now, 23 states remain more responsive than the federal government when it comes to guaranteeing a decent wage.

How much more can consumers be squeezed?
EPI senior economist Jared Bernstein this week testified to the Joint Economic Committee of Congress on the array of economic forces that are squeezing working Americans’ incomes and living standards. To help counter those forces and provide some immediate relief, Bernstein called for a second stimulus package, preferably in the form of state fiscal aid and public investment in needed infrastructure, such as highway and school repairs. Along with addressing urgent problems, the investments would keep more Americans working and contributing to the economy through the downturn. He also advocated strengthening oversight of the financial sector to improve stability and provide long-term protection from the kinds of bubbles that have buffeted the U.S. economy in recent years.

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